Just two nights ago, in Thousand Oaks just north of Los Angeles, a group of young people was having a fun-filled evening of line dancing at the Borderline Bar. Security was posted at the door, and the surrounding community has long been considered one of the safest in America.
A man entered, armed with a single Glock .45 handgun, equipped with an extended magazine. Moments later, 12 people were dead or dying, and 18 were injured. One man, armed with one gun.
One of the dead was a heroic police officer, Sgt. Ron Helus, who courageously followed his training to disrupt the shooter at all costs though he knew the possible price, but only after calling to say “I love you” to his wife one last time. Another was a man, 27 year old Telemachus Orfanos, who survived the still-unexplained mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas, but did not survive becoming the victim of a second mass shooting in as many years. The murderer took his own life like a coward, but not before destroying dozens of others without explanation.
We do know a number of interesting things about the shooter. He had a history of mental disturbance and violence against women. His mother reportedly lived in fear of him, and authorities were called to his home after one incident, but they declined to take any action. He had allegedly sexually assaulted his high school track coach as a teenager, but she had declined to press charges.
This massacre was an easily preventable tragedy. It should haunt us for a long, long time. But now, with the same community and many others in California being devastated by relentless wildfire only hours afterward, and with Trump and his allies continuing to gaslight the entire country with baseless accusations against journalists and elections officials in the wake an historic election, the shooting has already receded from the headlines and our collective consciousness.
It must not.
Reasonable countries do not allow people to randomly possess weapons of mass death. Reasonable countries do not allow men who terrorize women to possess weapons of mass death. Reasonable countries do not allow people to modify common weapons of mass death to become even more deadly to large groups, carrying even more rounds of ammunition than originally designed.
The Putin-funded National Rifle Association is in part directly responsible for the deaths. In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 63 to ban the possession of high-capacity magazines. This was, in large part, a response to the deadly San Bernardino shootings enabled by them. But the California chapter of the NRA sued to block implementation of the law, and the case won’t be resolved until at least the middle of 2019. So Californians are still legally entitled to own high-capacity magazine attachments to handguns, instruments of death that have no purpose in any realistic self-defense situation but are extremely effective for those looking to aggressively murder as many people as possible.
Some may argue that the shooter would have kept his high-capacity magazine, anyway. But that’s impossible to say for certain. Arguing that criminals will always evade laws is a staple of gun fetishist rhetoric that they somehow refuse to apply to any other aspect of their strict “law-and-order” code. This massacre contradicted every NRA talking point. The shooter was a white male ex-Marine, the NRA’s perfect racially and socially coded embodiment of a “responsible gun owner.” There was security on site, but security was the first to be killed. A good guy with a gun came to try to stop him, but was killed by the even more prepared shooter. In the confusion created by the smoke grenade the shooter used, it’s extremely unlikely that more armed people in the crowd would have led to anything except more blind shooting and more death.
We can and should, in any case, hold accountable all those who fought make and keep owning such needless tools of fatal mass violence easy and legal. We must take up all legal means at our disposal to sue them in the courts, disrupt their efforts to buy our politicians, and shame their lackeys and representatives. The least we can do over the terror and suffering they are inflicting on all of us, is to make their lives modestly more inconvenient and disrupt their institutions in exchange.
We owe it to the dead. We owe to the families of the dead, some of whom are crying out for gun control even as they grieve the loved ones they will never see again. We owe it to the terrorized families of the owners and users of these implements of barbarity. We owe it to all of society, to all of us who will never be safe in any community so long as we fail to act.